- Chinese Thought in a Global Context: A Dialogue between Chinese and Western Philosophical Approaches
Students of foreign cultures like to keep their garden well tended, their object of study untouched by the corrupting influence of Western civilization. Although a tremendous amount of energy has been put into the study of the great Asian civilizations by Westerners, and even more energy into the study of European civilization by Asians, the two sides seldom meet on equal ground. Chinese Thought in a Global Context, a collection of papers presented at a symposium held in Trier in April 1997, with Karl-Heinz Pohl of the University of Trier presiding, is an exception to this general situation. This is not just another collection of studies in comparative philosophy, but a series of perspectives on the mutual reception and in-terpenetration of Chinese and Western thought.
The collection consists of four parts: (1) "Intercultural Hermeneutics and the Problem of East-West Understanding: Methodological Considerations Regarding the Meeting of Eastern and Western Thought"; (2) "Creative Transformation and New Interpretations of the Chinese Tradition: Reinterpretations of Chinese Thought under the Impact of Western Influence"; (3) "Chinese Thought in a Global Context: Comparative Essays on Aspects of Chinese and Western Thought"; and (4) "Cultural Flow between China and the West: The Transplantation of Elements of Chinese Thought to the West and Vice Versa." In all, there are seventeen papers included here. I will discuss only some of them, and not in the order in which they appear in this volume.
When comparing Chinese and Western thought, the first question is: "Is there a Chinese philosophy?"1 This question is addressed in the first part of the book by Lutz Geldsetzer in his "Eurocentrism, Sinocentrism, and Categories of a Comparative Philosophy." Geldsetzer accepts the reality of a Chinese counterpart of Western philosophy, but continues to accumulate evidence of formal and material evidence for the existence of a Chinese philosophy deserving of the name, with similarities in evolution, problems, systems, and the social and political role of philosophy and philosophers.
With regard to methodology, the hermeneutic perspective is a natural point of departure. Rival conceptions of comparative philosophy, such as Masson-Oursel's use of the history of philosophy as a laboratory for experiments in thought,2 Scharfstein's attempt at a universal history of philosophy,3 and Libbrecht's model approach to comparative philosophy,4 have not been taken into consideration in this volume. This methodological perspective of a "fusion of [End Page 528] horizons" is advanced in several of the contributions, but with little in the way of theoretical articulation. I will discuss this briefly.
Ram Adhar Mall's remark that the European indologists' "main deficiency lies in their . . . prejudice in being able to return to the original text without the help of the rich hermeneutic tradition" (p. 8) at least has to be qualified for the European study of Chinese thought: in the first place European sinology would have been unthinkable without an appreciation of the Qing tradition of historical and textual studies; on the other hand the neglect of traditional interpretations has in some cases liberated the perception of ancient philosophy from the burden of the later prejudices of this same tradition. A remark in the same vein can be found in the essay by Zhang Kuan: "Western oriental scholarship always distances itself from the Chinese academic tradition which is supposed to be the very target of its intellectual pursuit" (p. 64).
Günter Wohlfahrt points out emphatically that knowledge of Asian cultures is largely restricted to specialists and has barely found a way to reach the general public, which is still infected by orientalist ideas about Asian wisdom and esoterism (pp. 24-25).
The most interesting essay in this first part is by Zhang Longxi, who discusses the relativism debate and exposes the relativist position as a position of superiority: the incommensurability of cultures in...